Review: Ninja Gaiden II (*** stars): Conclusions

  1. Introduction

  2. Improvements

  3. Downfalls

  4. Conclusions

Warning: Explicitly Violent Images Ahead. You Have Been Warned.

What about the scoring system, you ask? What about it indeed! Apparently the game thought I got a Master Ninja rank on every stage, but a Lesser Ninja overall. The numbers that they give you remain too big and large for me to get any real sense of what the whole Karma points system even means. Apparently there’s online leaderboards for this sort of thing, although I can’t imagine wanting to go through the game repeatedly with all of these problems thrust into my face. They’re not the kind of issues that simply disappear when you master your moveset, either; that camera will always wreck

Also, can I say that I find ranged combat incredibly boring? The bow and arrow, while satisfying in a sense, does not make combat any more interesting. Who, exactly, wants to fight in ranged combat when you’ve got a super great assortment of 8 diverse, interesting melee weapons? I can see why they put it in – it’s a challenge that jumbles up your expectations, surely – but it’s just not very satisfying to charge bow shots and kill several bosses that way. Same goes for any combat on the surface of the water or under said wate. No, I do not like pressing a button repeatedly to stay on top of the water with a limited moveset. No, I do not like stopping still to use the underwater gatling gun to shoot mines. Ninja Gaiden and water just do not mix well, and create these pace-breaking elements which, unlike puzzles, are not interesting at all.

Seriously, I can’t imagine anything but a rush job at the end of development. The random, uneven nature of the game’s pacing doesn’t do it any favors in convincing me otherwise; since it’s all combat all the way through, there’s little time to do anything else at all. Even the optional challenges are just more combat layered into a different arena. While I would commend such razor sharp focus, Ninja Gaiden II frequently takes the “endurance match” route rather than the “tautly designed fighting” I found in its predecessor. Fights just last way too long, turning into a grueling slog as enemies just keep spawning into the scenario with little end in sight. Yes, the combat’s good, but you do so much of that combat that it turns into a slog and a grind. There’s too much of it, with nothing to break the pace at all, and that just mentally exhausts you after a while. Given the focus and concentration required to play well, I needed frequent breaks from the game after about an hour. This isn’t an arcade game, after all, and while I would appreciate a paucity of content in that context, Ninja Gaiden II simply gives you too much!

Ninja Gaiden II archdemon

What once felt exciting turns into a long, drawn out conflict, and I don’t think any video game, and especially in this genre, should ever make you stop playing for reasons of pacing. I am curious whether Ninja Gaiden II’s mechanics would work in the context of an endless mode, simply because I think it’s great. Thankfully, there’s a DLC that performs this function precisely!The surrounding shell spoils the interior, or at least tries its best to spoil it. That, in sum, shows us Ninja Gaiden II’s biggest problem: the game itself ends up troubled by its overarching design rather than its specific elements, and that’s a hard thing to fix.

And yet, I am curiously enamored with it. Clearly, a very good game lies underneath, and flashes of that design show through. These problems, however, show how a tight release schedule and development time can really hamper a project. I would play it just for the combat, but not many would slog through the problematic parts like myself. I find that horribly unfortunate.

My guess, and this is based on pure speculation, is that Tomonobu Itagaki was in the throes of lawsuits (one was for sexual harassment, and I believe he then sued Temco for breaching contract and other such related details). As such, the game suffered in development simply due to real world circumstances. Ninja Gaiden Sigma 2, for its part, tries to fix the “flaws” of the original, but introduces new frustrations of its own and makes the game far too easy. Clearly, this version remains superior to its “remake”, but the potential lies underneath a literal pile of crap; you either take the plunge and find the gold underneath, or you avoid the smell entirely.

It’s the exact inverse of most bad games – not a polished turd, but an actually, really well-designed game botched by a rushed development schedule and the real world encroaching upon the director’s vision. I suppose the same goes for any works of art made with the money of corporate backing – sure, you find a wider audience and end up with a budget that most could only dream to use, but you remain beholden to the people who fund your work to some degree.

We could say every game remains incomplete, as we are incomplete. We can point out the flaws and problems all day, but in the end you must ask: is the game fun? Does it work? And for Ninja Gaiden II, though I think it squarely average, falls into that vein. It worked for me; I persevered and got through it, even though it contained myriad flaws that I hated to no end. In effect, though, it focused me on something, and really made me strive to finish it. We need more video games like that, ones that change you and force you to improve as much as they provide “meaning” through avenues exclusive to this medium. These kinds of games change your perspective a bit, and maybe for the better.

God makes us the work of His hands, and changes us. So should video games change you; why bother with any other kinds of games, really?

But now, O Lord, You are our Father,
We are the clay, and You our potter;
And all of us are the work of Your hand.
9 Do not be angry beyond measure, O Lord,
Nor remember iniquity forever;
Behold, look now, all of us are Your people.

Isaiah 64

About Zachery Oliver

Zachery Oliver, MTS, is the lead writer for Theology Gaming, a blog focused on the integration of games and theological issues. He can be reached at viewtifulzfo at gmail dot com or on Theology Gaming’s Facebook Page.